Education: The School as Social Engineer

Politicians on the Left and the Right regularly talk about one’s home life and the societal conditions that make learning difficult.  To those union voices, the cause of failing schools is not the teachers per se, but society as a whole.  It is actually a circular problem.  Without an adequate education, “graduates” are doomed to a life of low-paying jobs which only perpetuates a cycle of near poverty, if not poverty.  Some teachers and all unions will note that it is “folly” to blame schools 100% on a child’s failure when they spend only 7-8 hours of their day at school.

No one is denying that because of what happens beyond the school yard does not have an effect on a child’s educational outcome.  No one would disagree with the Left if they were trying to search for solutions to poverty and broken homes, but it does become a problem when they use societal ills as an excuse to block needed educational reforms.  If there is poor performance, then they blame poverty and there is nothing a school could do.

Looking at the subject of school performance, one would think that Texas leaves much to be desired.  Their raw test scores rank them 32nd.  However, there is more than meets the statistical eye.  Researchers have factored in things that the Left argues should affect educational outcome-  poverty, childhood health and family structure.  They have labeled this the “Teachability Index.”  Obviously, states that are particularly racked by poverty or broken homes should perform lower than states that do not face these difficulties under the rubric advanced by the Left.  When this index is applied, Texas actually ranks fourth in educational outcome.

Schools cannot fix all of society’s ills.  Inherent in this claim, if we follow the Left’s logic, is that schools and teachers start out at a negative given the number of disadvantaged students.  Therefore, any educational reform would be futile.  It is a defeatist attitude without basis.

However, there is one reform advanced by conservatives that has shown to be advantageous to increasing academic performance.  Holding schools accountable through performance gauged by standardized testing appears to work where it has been adopted.  By accountability, that means sanctioning the bad schools and rewarding the good schools.  Where this has been adopted, students saw significant statistical improvements.  In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans public school system adopted just such a program coupled with adequate funding of public schools and some modicum of school choice.  The results have been astounding and the New Orleans school system now outperforms that of other major cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Denver.

Assuming a standardized test is reliable and valid, using it to sanction or reward schools is the logical next step.  This increases accountability and forces the poor performers to “pick it up a notch.”  But what about those poor performers doomed to poor performance?  What about the students in those schools?  That is where school choice enters the picture.  It is the key ingredient in the New Orleans success.   Absent competition, they have no incentive to improve.  Nobody who could afford it is going to send their child to a poor performing urban school if they are serious about their child’s education.  So why not allow these parents the opportunity that rich, white kids almost take as a birthright and provide the means to allow their child to break the chains of the failing urban public school?

The unions will fight this claiming this diverts needed money and resources from public schools.  However, I will show in a future article how school vouchers have the potential to actually decrease educational costs, improve student performance, and empower teachers and parents alike.

Their other argument is that only the smartest urban disadvantaged student would be able to take advantage of a private education.  Statistics do not bear this out.  The point is not to privatize education, but to provide viable options to failing public schools and to force competition into the system.  Teacher unions will argue that the Right is attempting to privatize education when nothing could be further from the truth.

And let’s cut to the chase here: When we talk about failing urban schools, we are talking about those occupied by minority students.  Part of the problem is cultural.  Decades of victimization and liberal policies that foster dependency on the state have led to a de-emphasis on education in the black and Hispanic community.  To minority students who actually perform, they are “acting white” and made fun of.  The rejection of societal norms that lead to academic achievement have been abandoned.  In an effort to set themselves apart, the dress, speech, behavior and demeanor has changed for the worst.  The ethos that lead to success in life are self-control, marriage, work and education.  In all these areas, there is a serious disconnect.

To prove the point, one word: Asians.  The academic success of Asians is well documented because their parents place a greater emphasis on both hard work and education.  In fact, Asians living in poverty often overcome the problems associated with that poverty to far outperform other minorities living in similar poverty situations.  That is because the increasing Asian population is a relatively new demographic phenomena; they have not yet been indoctrinated into the liberal culture of dependency and victimization.

Although schools cannot change all of society’s ills, they can certainly for those 7-8 hours do a better job than they are doing now.  As long as the unions stand between true reform and maintaining the status quo which usually translates into throwing more money down the educational drain hole, academic performance will continue to stagnate or fall.  And the ones most hurt are the most vulnerable.


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